Cannes 2009

Behind the Scenes at the First Cannes PR Lion Judging

Why the Jury Awarded Work Created by an Ad Agency Rather Than a PR Shop

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CANNES (AdAge.com) -- The 15 judges came from all over -- from Singapore and Scandinavia to the U.S. and U.K. The judging process was rigorous, in part because this was the first time PR "competed" at the Cannes International Advertising Festival. Led by Tim Bell, chairman of Chime Communications in the U.K, the panel of seasoned PR professionals agreed to look at entries with an agency-agnostic view.

Campaigns making positive social contributions to the world rose to the top. The World Wildlife Fund for Nature won for global warming awareness. The Hariri Foundation was honored for its women empowerment program in Lebanon. And the Portuguese Red Cross took a prize for its charity awareness campaign. And Leo Burnett was the really big winner, acting as the agency of record for all three -- clearly tuned in to the sensibilities of an industry bent on recognizing work that's about doing well by doing good.

Even in the corporate realm, P&G's "Protecting Futures" and Häagen-Dazs's "Honey, Let's Lick the Problem" netted trophies for agencies Manning Selvage & Lee and Ketchum and Goodby Silverstein & Partners, respectively. Both campaigns are exemplars of effective cause marketing.

The big PR winner, however, was not grounded in altruism. It was essentially a classified ad for a blogging gig in Australia to promote tourism to Queensland, spawning interaction with millions of people and generating "free advertising" for the region in untold multiples of the marketing spending. The jury ultimately gave the Grand Prix to "The Best Job in the World" because it delivered spectacular results at low cost. "Best Job" ricocheted around the globe -- despite being a local tourism effort -- reaching 15 judges in their far-flung homelands. No other entry was truly that global in reach.

Our reaction, as PR veterans, is that's the sort of tactic that arises in lots of PR brainstorming sessions. Ever since Guinness ran a successful contest to win a pub in Ireland to promote the ale's roots and allure, the idea of inviting consumers to compete for a shot at a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is, and will always be, a sure formula for audience engagement around a brand.

The big winner -- and frankly all 18 PR winners -- would delight Dan and Chip Heath, authors of "Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die." Their thesis is that sticky ideas are Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, and Emotional Stories (SUCCES).

Let's face it, the "Greatest Job" idea could not have been simpler and hats off to the creatives who resisted complicating the idea with unnecessary layers. Unexpected?A chance to blog from the Great Barrier Reef was a grabber for sure. As to concrete and credible, for its absence of ambiguity and abstractions, and its real shot at adventure, this campaign stood out. The chance to spend six months blogging from Hamilton Island surely struck an emotional chord. And, finally, as a great story, this one spurred 34,000 people to submit video applications, sparking expectation-shattering video sharing and press coverage.

What's notable is not that the Queensland campaign won the top PR Prize in Cannes, but that it was done by an ad agency. It wasn't relevant whether its creators hang a PR or advertising shingle outside; what mattered was that it showed the power of PR and that it resonated around the world.

While the ultimate jury of any campaign are its target consumers, the jury at every awards competition are ultimately consumers, too.

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Karen Strauss is chief innovation officer of Ketchum, a leading public relations firm; Teresa Garcia Cisneros is the CEO of Ketchum Spain and a Cannes PR Lions judge.

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